3D cancer move cuts animal tests

A new laboratory device that creates three dimensional cancer tumours can reduce animal testing by almost a third, say scientists.

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The technology is part of a growing movement away from using animals to screen drugs

A new laboratory device that creates three dimensional cancer tumours can reduce animal testing by almost a third, say scientists.

The technology is part of a growing movement away from using animals to screen drugs.

Of all drug molecules investigated by scientists, only 10% complete the journey from work bench to patient.

Part of the reason for the high failure rate is the poor efficiency of animal testing.

The "microcancer" assay was developed at the Institute of Cancer Research in London.

Most drugs are initially tested on cells in "flat" two dimensional culture plates before being evaluated in animals.

The new assay, which took two years to develop, consists of 96 "wells" each containing a 3D microtumour.

It can be used to study drugs that block the invasiveness of cancer as well as its growth.

"It's not just multiplication, it's movement that kills cancer patients," said lead scientist Professor Suzanne Eccles, speaking at the British Science Festival at the University of Newcastle.

She added: "We've been able to reduce, so far, the number of compounds tested in-vivo (in animals) by 30%."

The team had been given ethical approval to develop microcancers directly from patients, opening new doors for personalised medicine, said Prof Eccles.

The device was also being further developed to increase the number of microcancer wells to almost 400.

The research has been funded by the NC3Rs (National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research), the body set up by the Government to look at ways of reducing animal suffering in laboratories.

Dr Mark Prescott, head of research management at the NC3Rs, said it was widely recognised that reliance on animal testing was one reason for the "large attrition rates" of new drugs.

"I think the (pharmaceutical) industry does recognise that animals are part of the bottle neck and that needs to be addressed," he said.

Prof Eccles said: "I'm sure there will come a day when everything can be modelled or mimicked or computerised."

But she added the drug safety bar was "very high" and there was no prospect of that happening yet.